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American Music From Saint Thomas / Hancock, Et Al

Release Date: 07/26/2005 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7567   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Randall ThompsonWalter PistonDan Locklair
Performer:  Judith Hancock
Conductor:  Gerre Hancock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra of St. Luke'sSt. Thomas Men and Boy's Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Here is a soothing CD for Sunday night listening: two settings of liturgical texts by Dan Locklair for a cappella choir and a song cycle by Randall Thompson for choir and chamber orchestra, separated by Walter Piston?s instrumental interlude for organ and strings. The choir is that of the church of St. Thomas, New York, ?the only church-related residential choir school in the United States? according to the notes. It consists of 15 men, some of whom sing counter-tenor, and 20 or more boys from the church school. The recording was made in St. Thomas?s church in May 2002 and the acoustic has been well managed: sound Read more is reverberant enough to put a halo around the choristers, but not so much as to muddy the lines. The organ and chamber orchestra are cleanly recorded too, balanced more closely than the choir.

Dan Locklair (b. 1949) has composed music in several genres but is probably best known for his sacred music. His Brief Mass from 1993 is widely performed, popular for its musical qualities as much as its brevity. Locklair?s choral writing is similar to that of Britten and some other 20th-century English choral composers: his themes have a Lydian modality about them and his harmonies often feature the soft dissonance of a major second. Both of these traits ?sound? particularly well in a cathedral setting. The opening Kyrie is almost entirely set in the choir?s middle register, but is capped at the very end by a high arioso line from the sopranos?a sudden, short-lived blossoming. The remaining four movements are equally succinct. Again, in the short setting of the Pater Noster (the Lord?s Prayer), Locklair?s style is clean and clear, this time evoking a medieval atmosphere through the use of pedal notes from the bass voices. The choir copes well with these two unaccompanied works, which are not as easy as they sound: exposed singing like this with very little doubling requires unanimity of attack and accurate pitch.

Piston?s Prelude and Allegro begins in much the same style as Locklair?s Agnus Dei that precedes it, with slow chords and ?devotional? harmonies. It soon bursts into a bustling neo-Classical fugato, typical of the composer in its contrapuntal strength. Judith Hancock and the strings of the Orchestra of St. Luke?s bring color and vigor to the proceedings?though I suspect the original performer, E. Power Biggs, dispatched it with even more panache. The real find here is the choral song cycle by Randall Thompson, originally composed (like Locklair?s Pater Noster ) for this choir. Dating from 1969?Thompson?s 70th year?it is a setting of two poems by Robert Herrick and one by Richard Wilbur, closing with an extended Alleluia. The orchestral forces are confined to strings plus solo woodwinds. This lovely work is filled with a pastoral simplicity reminiscent of Les Six?Honegger, for instance, in the joyful moments of his Christmas Cantata ?as well as a modal melodic strain not far removed from Respighi. The quirky and pointed Scherzo movement (my favorite) sets Wilbur?s paraphrase of a description of the pelican from a medieval bestiary. This bizarre poem tells how the pelican kills his young, then returns three days later and brings them back to life through the force of his love: Biblically sound if not literally true! Finally, the Alleluia brings a mellifluous conclusion to a charming work and a delightful disc.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

The Place of the Blest by Randall Thompson
Conductor:  Gerre Hancock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra of St. Luke's,  St. Thomas Men and Boy's Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969; USA 
Prelude and Allegro for Organ and Strings by Walter Piston
Performer:  Judith Hancock (Organ)
Conductor:  Gerre Hancock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra of St. Luke's
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; USA 
Brief Mass by Dan Locklair
Performer:  Judith Hancock (Organ)
Conductor:  Gerre Hancock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra of St. Luke's,  St. Thomas Men and Boy's Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: by 1995; USA 
Pater noster by Dan Locklair
Conductor:  Gerre Hancock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Thomas Men and Boy's Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000; USA 

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